Stepping Up to Sustainability

envirostars logoMaking responsible choices and taking action to conserve natural resources are a way of life here Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). We strive to operate at the highest level of sustainability. This means conserving resources to avoid jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The PDZA Green Team recently created a Sustainability Plan that includes goals, strategies and actions to guide the internal operations of the zoo. The plan includes bi-annual goals with a long term goal for 2025 in categories such as:

  • Carbon footprint, energy and fuels
  • Water, waste and hazardous waste management
  • Construction and purchasing
  • Staff and guest engagement

The Dr. Holly Hogan Reed Conservation Fund committee earmarks $10,000 annually so that we can take action to make the Zoo operate more sustainably. In recognition of our current sustainability practices the Zoo has been certified as a 5-Star EnviroStar Business by Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. To learn more about living sustainably at home, follow the links below.


ReducE ~ ReusE ~ RecyclE

According to the EPA, the national recycling rate is just 30 percent. Increasing materials recycling in the U.S. to 60 percent could save the equivalent of 315 million barrels of oil per year. Recycling is a great way to make a difference locally and globally!

Reduce: Using less at the Zoo
  • Office printing is double-sided.
  • All office paper is 100% recycled.
  • Paper towels contain a minimum of 40% recycled materials.
  • Toilet paper contains a minimum of 60% recycled materials.
  • Garbage bags contain a minimum of 70% recycled materials.
  • Toilet seat covers contain a minimum of 30% recycled materials.

Reduce at home!

Reusing more at the zoo
  • We print on the blank side of printed paper.
  • Rechargeable batteries are used when possible.
  • Scratch paper is used for meeting notes.
  • We reuse used file folders instead of buying new ones.
  • Older office furniture goes where it is needed.
  • Staff uniforms are reused until they can’t be worn anymore.
  • elephant with bambooWe use micro-fiber cloths on our windows/mirrors instead of paper towels. These cloths also allow us to use fewer chemicals and work great!
  • We buy mop heads that last for many washings.
  • Tree and shrub branches are often used for animal perches and exhibit "furniture" for animals to climb on or use as shelter.
  • Plants around the zoo are used for animal browse (young twigs, leaves, and shoots that are fit for animals to eat). For example, bamboo is given to the elephants. Animals also enjoy banana and kiwi leaves. Growing our own browse means that we don't need to bring it in from somewhere else. That helps reduce our carbon footprint.
  • We use bamboo stems for staking small plants for support. Larger stems are used to build fences and gates around the Zoo.
  • Instead of buying “beauty bark,” we collect wood chips from local tree companies to use in our landscapes. These chips also help keep the weeds down, maintain the right soil temperature for plant roots, and hold water in the soil longer so less watering is needed. When the chips break down, they provide nutrients to the plants.

What can be reused in your life?

Recycling at the zoo
  • Recycling bins are available throughout the Zoo and in all staff areas.
  • Plastic wood shavings (animal bedding) bags are delivered monthly to the city recycling center.
  • Straw and hay bale twine is recycled.
  • Non-rechargeable batteries are recycled.
  • Cell phones and other electronic devices are recycled.
  • Ink and printer cartridges are recycled.
  • Construction materials including paint, concrete, asphalt and wood are recycled when possible.

Learn about recycling in Washington State.


Every year, Zoo staff finds new ways to save resources like power, water, and even plant material. Here are some of the ways we conserve resources!

we save Power...

  • Replaced old water recirculation pumps with more efficient pumps at our Rocky Shores exhibit. Equipment was also installed so that pumps will only run at full speed when necessary. These two projects reduced power consumption by 300,000 Kilowatt Hours.
  • Three flux valves were installed in the Aquarium water exchange system, allowing for a 30-40% decrease in power use.
  • $140,000 was invested to replace all Zoo lighting with LED equivalent lighting. Power used by lighting is reduced by over 90%.
  • 131106_pdza_lights_0890% effective HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems were installed.
  • Timers were added to exhibit heater elements (warm spots for animals when they are outside). These reduce power use by 40%.
  • Blankets and timers were added to water heaters. Blankets insulate the heaters to preserve heat and timers turn off tanks when the Zoo is closed.
  • Our diesel boiler was switched to a natural gas boiler. Now we buy about 5,200 fewer gallons of fuel per year. The new boiler is 95% efficient, while the old one was only about 78%. This switch saved the Zoo approximately $10,000 in the first year. This boiler heats our North Pacific Aquarium building.
  • Motion sensor lighting was installed in the Education Center and other buildings.
  • Aquarium exhibit lights were converted to LED.
  • 100% of all Zoolights display light bulbs were replaced with LED bulbs.
  • Energy efficient appliances are purchased whenever possible.
  • Energy-saving components and sustainable building materials are used in new construction when possible.

Learn something about energy!

we SAVE Water...

  • All urinals and toilets were converted to use less than 1.5 gallons of water per flush (old toilets used up to 5 gallons per flush).
  • Motion sensors were installed at hand-washing sinks so that water can't be left on.
  • tiger crossing riverRain sensors were added to garden watering systems to help prevent overwatering.
  • Programmed water features (soaking pools and waterfalls) turn off automatically when animals are off exhibit.
  • A large grassy area was replaced with native and adaptive plants and trees since these typically need less water.
  • Native and drought tolerant plants are planted thoughout Zoo grounds.
  • Plant beds are mulched to retain soil moisture.
  • Rainwater is collected and used when possible.

Why should we save water?

AND we compost!

  • Paper towels from staff restrooms
  • Kitchen scraps from the Plaza Cafe
  • Animal bedding (mostly cedar shavings, straw and poop)
  • Un-eaten produce (fruits and veggies)
  • Branches and leaves trimmed from the Zoo's gardens

try composting at home.


green opportunities for Zoo Visitors
  • idle free signIdle Free Zoo signs at loading areas remind visitors that turning of their engine when waiting for 30 seconds or more is better for their engine and the planet.
  • An electric car plug-in station is available in the parking lot behind our Elephant Barn.
  • Bike racks are available to the left of the Zoo's main entrance, next to the Education Center.
  • Recycling cans are next to trash cans. Be sure to choose the right bin when making a deposit!
  • Pierce Transit bus stop for route 11 is located just down the street near the entrance to Point Defiance Park.
  • Recycle your old holiday lights by bringing them to the Zoo in November and December each year.
green Opportunities for Zoo Staff
  • Zoo maintenance staff use “Green Trucks” and hybrid vehicles for daily operations.
  • Environmentally friendly cleaning products are used.
  • Alternative transportation incentives (awards for walking, biking, carpooling or taking the bus) are offered to interested staff.
  • A Recycling Awareness Campaign was established by one of our zookeepers to teach staff what can be recycled and how to get it to the right place.
  • Each year, staff can browse the Green Team's Green Holiday Gift Guide, which includes ideas for how to give greatly while leaving a smaller carbon footprint.